“Confusion for them [al-Qaeda] is opportunity for us. And this is the time to step on the gas and break their back,” Rogers said in an 8 a.m. speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
“This is the wrong time to back off on funding the intelligence community, when they are very close to technical breakthroughs” that will improve intelligence gathering, he said.
Rogers’ speech, entitled “Lessons Learned in the 10-year Hunt for Osama bin Laden,” described how U.S. intelligence agencies re-shaped their anti-terrorism efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Prior to that, Rogers said, intelligence agencies had been stripped down by post-Cold-War budget cuts, and kept from cooperating by both federal rules and bureaucratic suspicions.
On the day of the attacks, “all of our intelligence agencies realized that they weren’t prepared for what was facing them,” Rogers said.
He touted the operation that killed bin Laden last week as evidence that the intelligence agencies had learned their lesson. That operation drew on in-person interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects, as well as electronic surveillance methods and on-the-ground spying near bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“We wanted to know everything” about the compound, Rogers said. “And, by the next few months, they started to know everything.”
Rogers gave few new specifics about the hunt for bin Laden or what was found inside the compound. He also did not give details about how he planned to change the intelligence budget, saying only that he hoped it would be one of the few areas where the Republican-dominated House add new funding for next year.
Rogers said the bin Laden operation had proved the usefulness of treating al-Qaeda suspects as enemy combatants, not as civilian defendants. He said that interrogations of suspects captured in the first years after Sept. 11 had provided some of the most useful information about al-Qaeda’s operations and structure.
An audience member asked Rogers his opinion about the assertion that the bin Laden operation proved the value of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, which some have called torture. He seemed to seek a middle ground.
“I don’t think you have to use torture to get information,” Rogers said, noting that he had been trained to extract information without it during his previous career with the FBI. “But all of those interrogations netted information that helped us get smarter,” including those that included the “enhanced” techniques, he said.